Cats get 8 seed, open NCAAs vs. K-State

ATLANTA -- Kentucky players sat around tables in a Georgia Dome room, not many minutes after a 61-60 loss to Florida in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game, watching nine TV screens tuned to CBS to see their NCAA Tournament draw.
The answer came: A No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region.
There were no gasps, no outrage, no sighs.
"We kind of knew we were going to get janked," sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein said. "That's what you kind of sign up for at Kentucky when you don't take care of business early."
"We thought we could have gotten a little higher (seed)," freshman guard James Young said, "but we kind of expected that was going to happen."
Coach John Calipari tried to prepare them for a disagreeable draw. Even as he touted Kentucky's resume this week, he sarcastically said in public it "looked like an 8 seed" to him and predicted UK would end up on that line to his players.
"I called 8 seed to the team," Calipari said. "They said, 'There's no way.' I said, 'We're going to be an 8 seed. Just watch.'"
They did watch. They saw their Round of 64 opponent in St. Louis, No. 9 seed Kansas State. They saw No. 1 seed Wichita State, No. 2 seed Michigan, No. 3 seed Duke and No. 4 seed Louisville also slotted in their region.
"I've been here for five years, and that's an extremely long time, and we've never gotten a good seed other than the year we were No. 1," senior forward Jon Hood said. "I didn't expect to have a good bracket."
While the NCAA selection committee chair said earlier this week they would create contingency brackets to account for Sunday conference championship games, both Calipari and athletics director Mitch Barnhart asserted that UK was already locked into its draw regardless of its outcome against Florida.
"The seed was done before the game was played," Calipari said. "They were not moving us around."
"Clearly, obviously, the brackets are made up before it ever gets to the selection show," Barnhart said. "I would have been curious as to how they could have justified, if we won the game on a last-second shot, having the SEC Tournament champions be an eight seed."
Barnhart said Kentucky did what the NCAA stresses -- including playing a difficult non-conference strength of schedule -- to deserve a higher seed.
"It's very surprising, to be real honest with you," Barnhart said.
Barnhart said he couldn't speak to whether or not the NCAA committee may have an anti-Kentucky bias because he's not in the room.
Players, though, think they know.
"Nobody likes how we run things in Kentucky," Cauley-Stein said. "You know, a lot of people want to see us fail."
Calipari said he hopes the draw serves as motivation for his team to "prove them wrong," but also wants his players to put the selection behind them.
"It's over," Calipari said. "I can be mad about it. You can be mad. Everybody can be, 'Explain yourself! … "But they don't have to explain it. They say, 'That's what we did.' So we just got to go play."
Hood said he's accustomed to moving on from NCAA slights, whether perceived or real.
For the freshmen, it may be a tougher task.
"It the first time they've ever done it," Hood said. "So it is hard for them."
Kentucky has a few practices back in Lexington to move on and prepare for "some really difficult games," Barnhart said.
They start with that matchup against Kansas State, who went 20-12 (10-8 Big 12) this season with notable wins over Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma at home.
"Even though we thought our seeding was messed up," freshman center Dakari Johnson said, "we'll be fine.